Spilling Over: Painting Color in the 1960s
March 2019–

Advance Tickets

Painters in the 1960s faced a dilemma. Committed to the notion that color combined with gesture could still be an advanced form of artistic practice, they were forced to reckon with the newly indelible legacy of Abstract Expressionism and the freshly ascendant reign of Pop Art. After the painterly inventions of Jackson Pollock and the critical and cool precision of Andy Warhol, what could painting do?

Spilling Over: Painting Color in the 1960s looks to the particular power of color to articulate questions around perception, race, gender, and the coding of space. Instead of bracketing artists by movement—using terms like Op Art and Color Field—the exhibition gathers paintings that differently employ direct, saturated, even hallucinatory colors to activate the viewer’s perception. While contemporaneous accounts spoke in universal ways about perception, recent scholarship has looked to the personal, social, and political conditions that impact how we understand and speak about perception. Many of the artists in the exhibition were painting as active participants in the civil rights and women’s rights movements. Their—primarily abstract—paintings permit spaces for viewers to consider the politics of place and presence. 

Drawn entirely from the Whitney’s collection, the exhibition includes important recent acquisitions by Emma Amos and Kay WalkingStick, as well as works by Helen Frankenthaler, Sam Gilliam, Marcia Hafif, Ellsworth Kelly, Morris Louis, and Bob Thompson. The title of the exhibition is taken from a quote by Thompson, who shortly before his death in 1966 said, “I paint many paintings that tell me slowly that I have something inside of me that is just bursting, twisting, sticking, spilling over to get out. Out into souls and mouths and eyes that have never seen before.” Spilling Over demonstrates why and how painting could still matter for artists who wanted to see anew.

The exhibition is organized by David Breslin, DeMartini Family Curator and Director of the Collection, with Margaret Kross, curatorial assistant.